Theresa Ronnie
Guest Article

Selling to women: A view from the marketing corner offices

Theresa Ronnie says selling to women is an easy job. Marketers have many tricks to sell to them. Read on...

Selling to women is a cinch. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. We marketers have many tricks to sell to them. Some tried and tested ones, in no particular order....

• Use her voice to get others like her in;

• Show her a golden girl that she could aspire to become;

• Tell her that pretty and attractive girls are the ones who get the handsome boy;

• Tell her that if she didn’t feed her family our products, her kids and husband wouldn’t shine in society’s eyes. Which woman wants that sort of social shame?

• Finally, pit her against society: show her the nuances of her relationships and let her compare her life against our (albeit, unrealistic) portrayals of relationships that are comical, sinister, idealistic, even bordering mundane to move her.

Selling to women: A view from the marketing corner offices

We are smart.

We marketers we.

Knowing when a story loses its potency - because we retain a slew of market researchers to tell us - we flip the tape when the above tropes lose their freshness.

So.

We became clever and just copied whatever form of capitalistic consumption the West was peddling. And, we took these western ideals to suit a new and easy narrative, one that let us capitalise feministic sentiments and water it down for the Indian audience.

This way men, women and mothers in law would approve - after all, we are inherently patriarchal as a society and, really, who are marketers to break generations of societal conditioning?

So, we took global campaigns that spoke to women by lifting their cause and made them work in India.

It was genius.

Women, we said, buy us because we tell you that you are beautiful on the inside: for real. We tell you that you are a strong mother and we support your strength. We also tell you that your men ought to share in the load of running a home, because hey, you are man enough to do a woman’s job.

It was working too!

You have to remember that the Indian woman is susceptible.

Starved of appreciation for her duties at home and work, when someone showed her as the boss of her husband at his workplace, it was akin to female pornography.

She was buying our bag of tricks, which now laced our usual misogyny with a palatable tinge of feministic bullshit. She was in control, now we told her: You run your home, you are in charge of everyone’s well-being, so you have to make the right choices, so here’s the right choice. Choose my product.

She agreed with us that her periods aren’t the cripplingly painful time for self-isolation (with a hot water bag and her favourite sitcom reruns), but it was the time for her to breach sales targets and run with the boys, if she was to prove herself man enough for the job.

Now, you have to remember also, that up until this point, we were kings of the mass media game. But a good thing seldom lasts forever, now does it?

For, along came the digital landscape with its WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. And suddenly, we were Jon Snow.

Scrambling with the wave of change, we commissioned expensive research, so we could tell our bosses she's gone there. We need to follow her there. How dare she get a minute's reprise from her life, or from us, we reasoned.

And so we went out banging pots and pans announcing our arrival on social media. We converted our mass produced messages - that held little relevance to the new medium - and bombarded her with it on her personal screen. She had nowhere to escape us now! And that thrilled us no end.

We didn't account for our digital agencies coming back and telling us that we were failing the new media game. They created a content calendar and taught us that unless you made content specific to the medium, A, the media owner was not going to accept the booking, B, the audience is not going to engage. C. This is digital media, why restrict yourself to airing a 30 seconder, when you can be making a three minuter?

We were sold. So, we punted on custom-built content; commissioning the digital agency packed with straight out of college folk in crisp white shirts and sharp haircuts to produce long format films on a pitiable budget; with questionable scripts and family or crew for cast members.

What people don’t know, is that we were grappling with huge problems of our own.

Open markets bring increased competition and the consumer was being as loyal as a sailor at port.

It was a total mess with sales scraping bottom-of-the-barrel for quarters at a stretch. 2020 was looking like another slow crawl towards consumer oblivion.

We were going to produce more yawn-inducing saccharine goop around how wonderfully thoughtful our women were, and/or we were going to paint our hyperbolic, soul-less causes into the next orbit.

And then COVID-19 hit the world.

We watched in shock, disbelief and awe as economic giants fell to the humble microscopic virus. We weren’t equipped to handle this! I mean, come on! Who would trust us to work from home? Hell. We don’t work from work!

Gosh.

How would we work from home? There would be no boardroom to hide inside. No posturing in committees. No comfort of physically humming and hawing in meetings.

Worse than the virus, we would be locked in with those women. You know, the ones we preached to from the comfort of our boardrooms? They now are in our homes. Cleaning our rooms, busying around emptying trash cans, cooking elaborate meals, while putting the kids on the straight and narrow.

The women among us, suddenly discovered that they were women. Locked in with their work, their chores and their loved ones. No maids (oh, they were women too? Who knew) to take the load.

This was going to be long and awkward for all of us. So, we did what we knew best.

We put out messages of solidarity. Messages of hope, messages on social media to remind users that we exist; to consume our products and services, messages to show the world how altruistic and wonderfully gregarious we are as an organisation as we post picture on picture of us giving rations and PPE kits away to the masses.

While we were putting on a show of a bleeding heart, we bullied and harangued our agencies to find production teams that would work through the lockdown and get content not worth its bytes on the cloud up and out at lightning speed. Because hey, brown-nosing up to management just took a different turn.

In the meanwhile, the women stockpiled what they could find on shelves. They started learning that the brand on the packaging didn’t matter at a time of scarcity. That when her child pleaded with her for a treat, she had one: Who cares who made it. So long as it was clean and hygienic and delivered on the taste. She was learning that Brand Z was as good as Brand A, and it cost 10 per cent less.

Now came the clincher in our careers.

All our lofty beginning-of-the-year sales predictions were now pipe dreams. Along with dreams of bonuses, increments, fat paychecks turning fatter. We the marketers, we're about to be taught a very important lesson, one we will argue to our deathbeds.

That we are not essential in the consumer’s life. What we do at work is not essential either.

But management tends to be a committee from hell and before the axe swung our way, we did the right thing. We swung that axe the way of our partners. So, agencies were asked to take a remuneration cut. It is genius of us, really. Ask all agencies at the same time. The one to blink, sets the precedent for the others to follow. Else, the axe fell and we reallocated the portfolio to a keener fool.

We win either ways. We are genius. But we won’t celebrate too soon. We are still hiding in our homes and attending every Zoom call with the zealousness of a new trainee. Because hey, optics matter.

The celebrities and models we typically hire to embody our buyers, have taken to lamenting on social media about their nostalgia for exotic holidays, their cooking skills, their roots showing without touch-ups, or the general ennui of life, as they loll about on plush whites and fluffy cushions. In the meanwhile, our wives, and a gazillion other real women are out there. Handling laundry, crying infants, nagging in-laws, sick parents, anxious pets, fleet-footed children, while also handling their periods and their dreams - as our school-going kids take online classes on their mother’s screens.

What about our consumer: her mental health, you ask?

Her physical well-being?

Are you asking me? Mr CEO, who approved that feministic causal advertising - are you asking me if I am setting the right examples to my teams by talking about how I folded clothes today?

Or, how I shared the load with my wife? Are you nuts? Do you know the responsibilities I have? I am working twice as hard these days. Thank you, Sir. You are a beacon of hope for all of us.

How about you? Yes you, you ad-guy with your long hair and the open brief to come up with the Cannes-winning work for COVID? Why would I watch my mother cook? I have my boss to manage, otherwise, I ain't getting my paycheck this month, pal! Talk about biting life realities to take inspiration from!

Okay. How about you? Mr Digital marketing guru... How much time is your son online? Playing games and chatting with strangers? Oh. He is a digital native. He needs to know what his world is about. Like papa like beta. Wow. The future seems very secure, thanks to your parenting skills.

And you, advertising’s golden girl. You have been talking about transgender rights and the wonderful sisterhood. How have you leaned into your community this time? They are fine, I’m sure. I have a VC with the global council and I'm preparing for the next awards haul. I have my own battles, yaar. Good to see your priorities are where they should be. You go girl.

We know that women will go back to their routine the minute all this lifts. Back to their serials, their children’s school schedules, the grocery shopping lists and YouTube cooking channels. We are betting that they will go back to the numbing comfort of consumerism.

We know it.

We are just biding our time.

We know we are going to be victorious.

We know we are the champions.

Hooraah!

(Theresa Ronnie has spent 18 years in the advertising industry. She was last seen heading FCB Ulka’s Bangalore operations. Disillusioned with the construct of the industry, she is currently building XX Chroma, a new age company that focuses on women as key decision makers.)